Election 08 : Education

Education represents the future of this country. Education is another topic that I happen to know a little about. I spend 8 years in college, I had the opportunity to attend some of the best colleges in the country and wonderful experience of being a professor at another top institution. Over the past two years I have had 4 of my papers published on the topic of education (1: http://doi.acm.org/10.1145/1368088.1368198 2: http://doi.acm.org/10.1145/1345375.1345437 3: http://doi.acm.org/10.1145/1268784.1268805 4: http://doi.acm.org/10.1145/1268784.1268828). Now does this qualify me as an expert on national, comprehensive education policy? No, it does not. I am interested in disclosing pertinent information, especially since this is something that informs my analysis of the subject. While I have experience with education, I don’t have experience with the public school (non-university) system. Just trying to frame my discussion.

From what I have seen – education is on the ropes in this country. Our teachers are grossly underpaid, and we are not focusing enough on the subject that are the future of the country. Jobs in science and engineering are going to be the future of the economy. Technology is going to play an increasingly important role in our economy as the information age progresses.

My personal experience in graduate school – I was one of few American students in the program. Students from around the world flock to this country to seek knowledge from the best higher education system in the world. Why aren’t American students seeking post-graduate education?

I believe that this starts at the lower levels. We have become a country of tests. A country where our k – 12 students are forced to pass a test to graduate. This has lead to “teaching to the test,” a practice where education and instilling a lifelong pursuit of knowledge is pushed aside so that scores on a standardized test will rise. In my experience, this is a long term recipe for disaster.

Now on to the election – what are the candidates proposing?
I’m trying to do more summarizing and less editorializing until the pros and cons portion.

And — I know there are some teachers out there reading, what do you think?

Summary of the Obama platform : View on www.barackobama.com
Barack Obama starts with 5 problems: not enough funding for no child left behind, our students (15 year olds) are ranked 28th in mathematics and 19th in science, one of the highest dropout rates (high school) in the world, problems with teacher retention (30% don’t make it past 5 years), and soaring college costs.

Elements of the Obama plan
• Emphasis on early childhood education, universal pre-school (voluntary)
• Quadruple early head start , and increase head start funding
• Provide affordable, high-quality child care for working families
• Reform NCLB, fund the law. Improve failing schools, rather than punish
• Make math and science education a national priority – recruit scientists to become teachers
• Specific plans for addressing the dropout crisis
• Increased funding for after school programs
• College outreach programs – prepare everyone for college
• Support for non-native english speakers
• Create new scholarships for education majors
• Require accreditation for education schools
• Programs to retain teachers
• Rewarding teachers – merit based promotion and pay
• The first $4000 of college education will be a tax credit
• Integrate applications for financial aid with the tax return (turns a form into a checkbox)

Summary of the McCain platform : View on www.johnmccain.com
This plan was harder to summarize with bullet points … it is a series of beliefs.

The McCain platform is about choice – they are very big on charter schools. McCain believe in competition between schools, that “our schools can and should compete to be the most innovative, flexible and student-centered – not safe havens for the uninspired and unaccountable.” John McCain believe that parents should be empowered to change the schools, and to change the school that their children attend. McCain supports withdrawing funding from underperforming schools. The rest of the plan can be bullet-pointed:

• Create centers for excellence in head start
• Create measures for quality in identifying these centers
• Attract quality instructors – increase pay
• Increased standards for preschool programs
• Integrate health screenings in early childhood education
• Increased parental involvement
• Build on no child left behind
• Providing funding to states who recruit education majors graduating in the to 25% of their class
• Funding for teacher development
• Give principals control over spending
• Give parents control over money (editorial: I think this means vouchers)
• Expansion of the “Opportunity Scholarship” program
• Access to tutoring programs
• Funding for online education programs
• Money to pay for online tutors and virtual schools
• Improve information for parents (higher education)
• Simplify higher education tax benefits
• Simplify federal financial aid
• “Improve Research by Eliminating Earmarks”
• Expanding student lending

Pros and Cons of each plan (As I see it)
• Expansion of early childhood education (Both)
• More aggressive early childhood education (Obama)
• Reform NCLB (Both)
• Increase resources to failing schools (Obama)
• Support for non-native English speakers (Obama)
• Simplified aid, tax credits, etc.. (Both)
• Specific details of the above (Obama)

Cons:
• Decrease funding to failing schools (McCain)
• Run schools like businesses (McCain)
• Total of $500 billion for online and virtual school initiatives (McCain) (note: I think this is a huge mistake, in-person education is something that can’t be replaced with a computer screen. This is coming from someone who has published in the area. Take it or leave it.)

The Edge
I see major differences in this plan, and it is in the details. Obama has many more specific details in this plan (this seems to be a trend in all plans). The McCain plan lacks many details.

I am encouraged by Obama’s plans for boosting failing schools, rather than ignoring them and pulling their funding.

John McCain wants to treat public education like a business, through increased competition. Take a look at business in this country – it is littered with corruption and greed. Running schools like a business is not the answer.

I give this victory to Obama.

Again – anyone out there have comments? Through these reports I want to get people thinking and talking.